Want to get ready to shoot again? Here are our top tips for sprucing up your gear before lockdown lifts
Image by Alif Ngoylung
Without doubt, it’s a difficult time, and there’s no shame if your camera kit is taking an extended hibernation at the moment. There are many reasons why you might not feel up to taking many pictures right now, whether that’s the simple practical issue of not being able to get to your locations, or just feeling a little mentally overwhelmed.
If you’re not taking pictures but feeling a little restless about it, then maybe it’s a good time to do a little spring-cleaning of your gear, spruce things up, and get it all prepared for when you’re ready and able to take pictures again! It may seem like a long wait now, but you might well be back in the field before you know it, and you’ll be grateful for the prep you did in your downtime!
IMPORTANT: Something to take note of before you start planning your exit from lockdown is that the rules are different in different parts of the UK, and likely will continue to be so for some time! Whether you live in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, lockdown restrictions can and will differ, so check for local updates before making any plans to travel!
Let’s take a look at a few ways you can spruce up your camera gear setup to get ready for the day you’re back in action and snapping pictures...
1. Clean your glass and camera (and maybe your sensor)
While most modern lenses will come equipped with various sophisticated element coatings to repel dust and grime, in use they’ll pick up a little detritus from the real world. No shame in it! Why not use this extended downtime to give them a little clean and make sure your future images are as sharp as they can be?
It’s best to use a dedicated lens cleaner to ensure that you don’t damage your lens coatings – specifically tailored lens cleaning solutions such as this example from Calumet are designed to do just that! Even if you don’t want to go the whole hog on a cleaning solution, a simple (gentle) wipe with a microfibre cloth can do wonders, absorbing moisture and clearing away grime without smearing.
You can also take the opportunity to blow some of the dust out of your camera – literally! Carefully using an air blower such as the classic Rocket Blower from Giottos, take this opportunity to get some of the accumulated dust and debris out of the innards of your camera (you’d be amazed how much can get in there when changing lenses). Use it on the reverse side of your lenses too and get rid of the dust that can accumulate around the contact points.
Another thing you can try is cleaning your camera’s sensor. An important caveat here – this is only really something to try if you know what you’re doing and are confident. You definitely want to use a dedicated sensor-cleaning kit such as those made by Visible Dust, and follow the instructions to the letter! If you aren’t confident doing this (which would be fair enough) then why not consider sending your camera out for a sensor clean – we’d recommend using Fixation (though of course we would say that).
Sigma Microfibre Cloth
This Sigma Microfibre Cloth in white has excellent water absorbing power and cleaning effect, with a unique triangle knitting structure, eliminating the small dust, finger prints and oil that can accumulate on a lens. Measuring 31cm square it will maintain its original cleaning efficiency even after many washes.
Giottos AA1900 Rocket Air Blower
Giottos rocket-shaped air-blowers are made from non-toxic, environmentally friendly material, resistant to both high and low temperatures and tear-proof. It has an air valve to prevent it from breathing in dust and blows out a powerful stream of air to blow dust away - making lens, camera, and filter cleaning a breeze. It's also great for removing crumbs from your keyboard! The rocket air's unique rocket-shaped design can stand upright, and its nozzle can be removed.
2. Arrange your camera bag
One of the great things about camera bags is how modular they are – many feature internal velcro dividers that allow you to customise the interior space to suit your needs, making space for your camera, your lenses, your flashgun, your memory cards and whatever else you want to carry. If you haven’t been using the space to its full potential and just kind of jamming everything in there, why not take this opportunity to try rearranging it and seeing if you can come up with something that works a little better?
Many camera bags also have quick-access pockets that allow you to retrieve your camera for those unexpected, unrepeatable moments. Are you taking the best advantage of yours? Experiment with different setups!
If you aren’t using a dedicated camera bag, then maybe this is the time to invest in one? Bags run the gamut from extremely affordable to pro-featured and sophisticated, so you’ll definitely be able to find the right one for you. There are loads of backpacks, sling bags, pouches, rolling bags and more out there for all different types of photographer.
Think Tank Airport International V3.0
Able to hold 2 gripped DSLRs with lenses attached, 2-4 additional lenses, and a 15" laptop and 10" tablet, the Think Tank Airport International V3.0 roller bag is specially designed to meet most international airline carry-on requirements. It features a reinforced, telescoping handle, user-replaceable parts to elongate its life, and TSA-approved zipper locks for the main compartment.
3. Experiment with off-camera flash / TTL
Off-camera flash, like riding a bike or making a good negroni, is one of those things that seems intimidatingly difficult until you actually do it. If you’ve got a flashgun that was gathering dust before lockdown, this is the perfect time to knuckle down with the instruction manual and figure out that TTL functionality. Stick the flashgun up on a tripod, grab a pot plant or willing family member, and learn all the ways that flash can enrich your images!
There are loads of great flashguns available, some for specific systems, others that work more generically. You can absolutely pick up a great flashgun without spending too much money, so if this is an area of photography you’ve simply never touched, why not take the time to learn?
Canon Speedlite 430EX III-RT Flashgun
A refined, lightweight flashgun with power and capabilities that belie its compact frame, Canon's Speedlite 430EX III-RT improves on prior models with an enlarged display screen, simplified controls and the introduction of radio-based wireless TTL - previously the remit of the much higher priced 600EX-RT. The 430EX III-RT also boasts optical triggering, a guide number of 43 with 24-105mm coverage, movable head with integral reflecting panel and a 3.2s cycle time. All in all, on or off camera the 430EX III-RT is a wonderfully capable tool: Brilliant for portraiture, enormously cost-effective and packed full of photo-making possibilities.
Nikon SB-700 Speedlight Flashgun
The Nikon SB-700 Speedlight is a versatile, easy-to-use flashgun that is compatible with Nikon FX and DX SLR cameras, and Nikon's Creative Lighting System. Despite boasting a range of advanced functions including 3 illumination patterns for total control flash coverage and A:B wireless mode for control of multiple Speedlights, the SB-700 is remarkably simple and intuitive to operate.
4. Try out some new editing software
Image by Jye Beckett
If you’re finding yourself spending more time than you used to in front of your computer, this could be the perfect time to experiment with some new editing software. You could be surprised how much difference new software makes to your workflow – whether it’s a more intuitive editing panel, more creative options that you didn’t have before, or a program with image tagging and cataloguing options that better suit your style.
Most editing software will have some kind of free trial available, so this is a great time to download a few and try them out. Load up an old image and see if you can do something different and creative with it – or if you have a tablet lying around, load it on there and try editing using a dedicated tablet app. You might discover a whole new way of working!
5. Research future locations
Image by Antonio Grosz
If you’re guilty of going to the same old spots whenever you head out to take pictures, well this is the time to put in the research and come up with some new locations to try. Look at other photographers in your area (maybe use Instagram’s location function) and look at where they’re going. Use Google liberally to find interesting photo spots you haven’t considered – and don’t be afraid to consider further afield, as you’re planning for the post-lockdown future! Take a pen and paper and mock up a day’s shooting itinerary for when you’re fully back in the field – you might find it to be surprisingly cathartic.
6. Try out a new camera support
Whether you’ve been using the same old faithful tripod for years, or religiously shoot handheld only, this might be a good time to acquaint yourself with the many camera support options that are out there.
First and foremost – a tripod. If you don’t have one, this is the time to get one. When you get out shooting again, you’ll have loads of new opportunities to experiment with long exposures, traffic trails, time lapse and more! A tripod can add a whole new dimension to a photographer’s work in any discipline, and it’s absolutely worth having one.
Even if you already do – have you considered something like a Joby Gorillapod? These flexible tripods can be mounted to almost any surface and allow you to get shots from all sorts of creative angles – not to mention they’re much more compact than full-size tripods.
Alternatively, try a monopod! Much easier to carry and quicker to set up than a tripod, they’re great to have on a long photo walk, giving you just that little extra stability when you need it so you can grab the shot. Or go in a different direction and pick up a bean bag – these are great makeshift supports for wildlife shoots where you might be waiting for a while before the subject appears.
Manfrotto MT055XPRO3 Tripod
The Manfrotto MT055XPRO3 Tripod is an upgraded model of the popular 055 range. It offers a 50% increase in rigidity as well as a brand new QPL (Quick Power Lock) leg lock system that guarantees equipment to be kept fully stabilised in any condition. The most notable feature of this model is the 90-deg centre column that allows for it to be extended vertically or horizontally in order to open up a wider range of photography and video possibilities.
JOBY GorillaPod Kit 3K
The GorillaPod 3K Kit retains the versatility and ease of using a standard GorillaPod while increasing the maximum load capacity to 3kg, making it ideal for DSLR cameras and small video cameras. Wrap the legs around handlebars or poles to fix your camera to areas that would normally be off limits, or just stand it on a flat surface like a standard tripod. This comes with the JOBY 3K ball head.
As you can see, there are loads of ways you can use this lockdown time in a stress-free but productive manner to prepare yourself for when you’re out taking pictures again. Good luck, and stay safe and healthy!
About the Author
Jon Stapley is a professional journalist with a wealth of experience in a number of photography titles including Amateur Photographer, Digital Camera World and What Digital Camera. See more of his writing on Jon's author page.